Loss to Timberwolves costs Kings chance to clinch playoffs and ‘share it with our fans’
Another sellout crowd of 18,151 showed up at Golden 1 Center to see the Kings light the beam, filling the arena and the Downtown Commons corridor with an air of anticipation the city hasn’t seen in ages.
The Kings had a chance to clinch their first playoff berth since 2006 in front of a fan base that is bursting with excitement, but the Minnesota Timberwolves canceled the coronation.
Jaden McDaniels scored 20 points to lead the Timberwolves to a 119-115 victory Monday night, spoiling what could have been a historic evening in Sacramento. Kings point guard De’Aaron Fox said the team shared the crowd’s sense of the moment, but the celebration will have to wait as Sacramento hits the road to play a two-game set against the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday and Friday.
“Guys wanted to clinch a playoff spot at home and wanted to share it with our fans,” Fox said. “But at the end of the day, regardless of where we do it at, I think people are going to be appreciative and people are going to love it.”
One of those people is Jorge Ramirez, a 38-year-old Kings fan who got choked up when talking about Sacramento’s resurgence before the game.
“This means everything,” Ramirez said. “This brings excitement and joy to everybody. I’ve been coming the last couple of years, and the building hasn’t been as full, but the fans are still here and now the atmosphere is just insane. I had to be here tonight. I had to live this moment. Just seeing everybody, all the fans, the happiness in their eyes. It’s amazing.”
Before Monday’s game, first-year Kings coach Mike Brown told a poignant story about longtime team equipment manager Miguel Lopez, who got emotional after the Kings beat the Utah Jazz on Saturday to reduce their magic number to one.
“After our last game, I’m in my office waiting to the do the media and (assistant general manager) Wes Wilcox walks in,” Brown said. “Wes has a serious look on his face. He goes, ‘Hey, I just wanted to tell you Miguel was in the tunnel and he was crying.’ And literally, I’m like, ‘Is his wife OK?’ I’m panicking, thinking something is wrong with somebody in his family, and he goes, ‘No, everything’s fine. He’s just been here so long, and to see this touched him.”
Fox had 29 points and six assists for the Kings (45-30), who remain third in the Western Conference, 5 ½ games ahead of the Phoenix Suns with seven games remaining. With one more win, the Kings will clinch a playoff spot and homecourt advantage in the first round. They can also clinch if other teams lose, so it’s just a matter of time.
Even so, this was something the Kings wanted to do in Sacramento.
“We have the best fans in the NBA,” Brown said. “The building is always electric. Guys look forward to playing in front of them, not even just a night like tonight. They look forward to playing in front of them all the time because of how electric it is, and you hear from your opponents around the league when they come in here. Even the officials, they talk about how the energy here is really the best around the league, and so you love that.”
Kings center Domantas Sabonis recorded his 61st double-double of the season with 24 points and 10 rebounds. Harrison Barnes added 19 points, but the Kings were undone by uncharacteristically poor 3-point shooting. They went 5 of 27 from beyond the arc, shooting an unsightly 18.5%.
The Timberwolves had superior size and length, even with the absence of Karl-Anthony Towns, who sat out on the second night of a back-to-back due to injury management after returning from a grade 3 calf strain last week.
“They pushed up on our 3-point shooters,” Brown said. “Their length is really good. They made us rush quite a few 3s. That made it tough.”
Naz Reid came off the bench to score 18 points for the Timberwolves (39-37). Anthony Edwards had 17. Rudy Gobert had 16 points and 16 rebounds with two blocked shots.
The Kings trailed by as many as 13 while getting outrebounded 13-5 in the first quarter. They still trailed by eight following a basket by Edwards with 5:08 to play in the second, but they outscored the Timberwolves 19-10 over the final 4:26 to take a 58-57 lead at the half. Fox scored 14 points in the second period, including 11 of the last 19.
The teams traded blows in a third quarter that featured four ties and 13 lead changes. Neither team led by more than three points. The Kings went up 80-77 on two free throws by Davion Mitchell with 4:05 to play in the third, but the Timberwolves carried an 86-85 lead into the fourth.
Minnesota went up by six on a 3-pointer by Reid. They stretched the lead to seven on a long ball by Edwards and took a 114-104 lead on an emphatic dunk by McDaniels with 3:52 remaining.
Kevin Huerter made a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to six, giving the Kings a glimmer of hope with 1:11 to play. Sacramento got a defensive stop and Minnesota went 2 of 6 at the free-throw line in the final 35 seconds, but Keegan Murray, Fox and Barnes all missed 3-pointers that would have given the Kings a chance to give their fans a storybook ending.
“The fans have been great all season,” Barnes said. “They’ve been great since I’ve been here, so obviously it’s disappointing for them, but as a team our focus is just continuing to get better every single day, and while this was a missed opportunity for a lot of different reasons, we will continue to press forward.”